Post-Apartheid South Africa: Transformation and Reconciliation

Article excerpt

Discussions pertaining to reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa mainly focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and its work. However, understanding the complex issues of transformation in this divided society requires a broader approach. Reconciliation not only involves telling the truth about the past and forgiving but also requires reparation for material and other forms of deprivation and the restoration of a spirit of respect for human fights and democracy. (1) It also necessitates the creation of a society within which the chances of recurrence of the kinds of gross violations of human rights that occurred in the past are reduced to a minimum. (2) Consequently, it is important to evaluate both the constitutional negotiation process and the roles of redressing the past, overcoming the legacy of apartheid, and engaging in nation-building. (3) The provisions of the Bill of Rights as well as some other sections of the constitution are important building blocks in this reconciliation and transformation process. The ongoing implementation of these constitutional provisions and the perceptions surrounding that process also have an important impact on the actual transformation and reconciliation process.

In this article, I offer a brief description of the most striking features of the apartheid regime, followed by an explanation of the overall constitutional negotiation process, which is peculiar to South Africa. I briefly describe the TRC process, discuss its constitutional basis, relevant legislation, and current status, and provide an overall assessment of its actual impact on reconciliation. I then analyze the constitutional negotiations with respect to the provisions dealing with controversial issues such as equality, language and education, self-determination and minority fights, and land. The implementation of these constitutional provisions is ongoing and faces several hurdles. Nevertheless, there is a steady progression, and the concomitant transformation will hopefully entail a higher level of reconciliation in South African society.


It is appropriate to give an overview of events, policies, and mechanisms related to the apartheid era that explain not only the heightened sensitivity in post-apartheid South Africa to certain concepts and techniques but also certain reactions and attitudes of the Afrikaner, colored, and Indian population groups. Several historical events and regulations of the apartheid system have negatively tainted, among other things, the concepts of group classification, group rights, ethnicity and race, minority rights, and self-determination.

Apartheid is generally said to have started after the 1948 election victory of the National Party, which used that concept and program as the focus of its election campaign. (4) However, segregationist policies and attempts to classify the South African population (5) were already noticeable centuries before, effectively since the early roots of colonialism in South Africa. (6) By the end of the eighteenth century certain racially discriminatory regulations were in place, (7) but it has been argued that "it was only in the period between the end of the Anglo Boer War in 1902 and the 1930s (8) that a cogent ideology of segregation emerged and was implemented." (9)

Apartheid is characterized by its central policy of "divide and rule," which was aimed at ensuring white survival and hegemony by dividing the nonwhite population along racial and even ethnic lines. (10) Consequently, the corresponding ethnic majority was divided into a host of minority groups, which could no longer pose a threat to the white minority. In that way apartheid can also be described as a scheme to disempower the nonwhite population (11) while giving privileges to the white, and especially the white Afrikaner, population. That design of apartheid was inter alia demonstrated by the official language policy, which excluded any indigenous language and was limited to English and Afrikaans; by the reserving of jobs for Afrikaners in the public service; and by the attempt to promote the Afrikaner people through a highly compartmentalized education system. …